The Differences Between In-house and Agency PR Roles



Posted: In: Blogs Interviews

PR pro Ryan Greives

After reading his interview in Bulldog Reporter, I quickly became “Twitter friends” with PR pro Ryan Greives. As Senior PR Specialist for subscription billing provider cleverbridge, he leads the company’s global PR and social media strategies. But before that, he worked at an agency, filling the shoes of Vice President of BLASTmedia’s B2B Practice Group.

Talking with him got me thinking about the differences between PR roles working on an in-house team as opposed to agency life, including the challenges and perks of both. I’ve also worked on both sides of the aisle and have my own opinions on what these differences are, but let’s see what Greives has to say about it.

Here, he explains the unique business challenges and benefits of both experiences to help other PR and communications professionals find their best-fit career paths.

Rebekah Iliff: You spent six years at an agency and three and a half in house after that. Let’s talk differences.

Ryan Greives: When I worked at an agency, it was extremely fast-paced. I had a varied portfolio of clients, was constantly learning about new industries, and was surrounded by a bunch of people all doing similar things.

Working in-house, I’m able to focus on one brand, getting a much deeper understanding of the business, its clients and competitors; and I’ve taken on additional responsibilities such as social media and content marketing. I hear throughout the PR industry that there’s a fear of becoming bored when working with only one brand in-house, but it’s never been the case for me.

RI: Should newbie PR people start their careers in-house or at an agency?

RG: I think it’s completely up to your individual career goals. If you already have a passion for a specific vertical and believe it’s where you want to be long term, dive in, learn as much as you can about the space, and cultivate media and influencer relationships whether the role is in-house or with an agency.

However, experience isn’t always the best teacher when you’re first starting out – sometimes the right mentorship can be the deciding factor. Coming out of college, I needed to gain experience in the trenches and learn from senior people who knew more about PR that I did. An agency was the perfect first step because I was able to learn quite a few vertical markets and gain experience in the fundamentals – client management, media relations, and PR best practices. I also gleaned a great deal of wisdom from more seasoned PR pros, and that’s not always available when you’re working in-house.

RI: So, what do you miss the most about agency life?

RG: The thrill of winning a new client — having the kickoff meeting, developing a PR strategy and plan, and delivering on the client’s goals will always be missed. While it can be a lot of pressure, I loved the challenge.

However, working in-house has delivered many similar opportunities. When I first started my current position, we went through a corporate rebranding and began targeting new industry verticals. That was exciting. I also get my “new-client fix” by freelancing for a cool wireless power company based in Chicago.

RI: What are some of the benefits of working in-house?

RG: I’d say there are two major advantages to working on an in-house team. The first is getting greater access to the executive, senior management, and sales teams. At an agency, we were confined to our client contact and depending on the client, maybe a couple other thought leaders within the organization.

The second advantage is getting to be a part of a truly integrated marketing team. Many agencies do their best to be integrated with their clients’ marketing efforts, but you’re still at the mercy of how well the client facilitates between the agency and the various parts of their operation.

When you’re meeting regularly with your marketing director, product marketer, bloggers, copywriters, event planner, and marketing automation specialist, it’s much easier to collaborate and ensure that communications strategies are consistent across all channels.

RI: How did your PR measurement practices change when you made the jump from an agency to an in-house team?

RG: When I started working in-house, I gained a deeper understanding of Google Analytics so I could track how PR efforts affected site traffic, organic search, leads, and content downloads. This varied from my experience in B2B PR earlier in my career when it was the norm to only track higher-level, “semi-vanity” metrics including number of media hits, print circulation, and so forth.

The second change was the shift to content marketing, which completely changed the marketing game and the role of the PR professional. Now, instead of spending 80-90 percent of my time on traditional media relations efforts, I’ve taken on much more original content creation.

While I still track the typical PR metrics, success today is more about leads, blog subscriptions, content downloads/signups, and interactions with our prospecting campaign content which we track via our marketing automation platform.

RI: What’s your best piece of advice for PR pros working in-house?

RG: I have a quote from the late Steve Jobs: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” In an agency, you’re surrounded by people much further along in the PR world that can inspire you to be better as well as peers that push you to be competitive. When working in-house, you might be the only PR professional there is, so it’s even more important to never be satisfied and always push yourself. Don’t get too comfortable…